Planning a trip...
to Ben Nevis
More information about the mountain can be found on our Ben Nevis page.
Briefly, then, Ben Nevis is Britain's highest mountain and offers a wide variety of activities for outdoor enthusiasts: "easy" walking (non-technical), scrambling, rock and ice climbing.
This page is aimed at non-climbers, hillwalkers with little or no winter mountaineering experience or persons wishing to organise a trip, perhaps for charity, where they will be "leading" a group of walkers of varied experience.
Climate - A Warning
Ben Nevis, as Britain's highest mountain, tends to be colder on the summit than you would probably expect. The climate on the summit plateau is described as sub-arctic: this means that the average annual temperature is below 0°! The summit also receives only about 60 days of good sunshine every year - much of the time it is spent shrouded in cloud - the "usual" cloud base on the UK is approx 3,000 feet (apx 930m) - Ben Nevis is significantly higher than this.
Snow is normally present on the Ben all year - throughout the summer there is normally snow to be seen in the sheltered gullies or clinging to the north-facing cliffs. It is not uncommon for there to be snow/hail showers on the summit in summer when it is actually very warm in the Glen below. There are likely to be significant quantities of snow on the ground/plateau from October through to May - this may be very icy on the surface.
During the winter you need to check the Avalanche Forecast and weather before setting out - if you don't know what you're doing in Winter you should either employ a guide or go somewhere else. Navigation can be extremely difficult at the best of times - Ben Nevis in winter is not the place to start learning!
What to take with you
From this point on I will assume that the trip is in "summer" - you should still try to get a weather/snow report before going, though...
You will need to take the following items (per person). This list is in no particular order.
- Warm Clothing
Even if it is warm in the Glen it is likely to be significantly cooler on the summit. It is also likely to be quite windy so warm clothing is essential.
- Good Boots
This should go without saying: trainers/gym shoes are not an option. Good, sturdy hillwalking boots are essential and anyone trying this ascent in flip-flops deserves to break their ankles - unkind this may sound but the local Mountain Rescue Team has spent a great deal of time attending this type of accident...
- Waterproof Jacket/Overtrousers
It rains more here than anywhere else in the country - need I say more? - these items also keep the wind out quite well.
This might sound stupid but it is vital that you take sufficient water (juice/whatever) with you - if you are only going up and then back down the tourist path you are still going to sweat - a lot. Three litres of fluid is probably not a bad idea - this could be in the form of 2L juice/water and the rest made up from fruit (oranges?) Remember - dehydration can kill, too... (and it gives you a serious headache!)
Have a good meal the evening before (carbohydrate rich - pizza/beer?) and a good hearty breakfast before you set out... when you're actually walking you will need to consume both starchy foods (sandwiches?) and sugars (chocolate, Kendal mint cake, fruit?) as well as all that fluid... eating a little and often (i.e. as and when you need/want to) is a much better idea than waiting until you're on the summit - you may have collapsed with exhaustion by then.
- Map & Compass
These two items are essential to everyone who uses our mountains. They are only useful, however, if you know how to use them - otherwise they can actually be dangerous by providing a false sense of security :-(
If you are in a group, the "leader" should have prepared a route card/plan for the day - the "leader" must know how to use the map/compass properly together! - Ideally everyone will have a map/compass and actively use them - this is far preferable than people blindly following each other across the mountain like sheep (have you ever noticed the dangerous little ledges sheep/goats tend to end up on???).
If you can read a map, make your own route card and compare/discuss it with the leader. Remember - anyone can make a mistake.
- First Aid Kit
Just in case - a qualified First-Aider is also handy - if you are with a qualified Mountain Leader they will be first-aid trained...
- Other Items
You will need,
- determination in varying amounts
- a sense of humour
- camera - to capture the fantastic views and funny moments
- Poly bag - this is for putting all your litter in as you go - you can put the bag in the bin when you get back to the bottom :-)
- O P T I M I S M...
- sunglasses, sunscreen, a hat (?), a scarf, gloves...
Go for it...
The best time to go is in the summer - July, when it's sunny. The midges are not usually too bad on Ben Nevis itself but they can be horrific on the lower slopes, better add insect repellent to that list!
Start the walk at the Youth Hostel in Glen Nevis. Start early. In July, 8am is a good time - 7am is better. Why so early? Well, the midges are not as active as they might be, neither are other people, so the path is not likely to be as busy as it will undoubtedly get later on.
Don't over-do it - if it's summer you'll have plenty of daylight to complete the trip - walk slowly, making sure the slowest person in your group is comfortable - there are an abundance of places to stop for a quick rest/bite to eat on the way up - some of them, on the lower slopes, even have benches :-) It is likely to take about 3.5 hours to walk to the summit at an average pace - it will probably take another 3 to get back down... if you started early, this means you can sunbathe on the summit!! (You remembered the optimism, didn't you.)
There is likely to be a small community on the summit when you get there - it will grow until about 3 pm when most people have started heading back down the path.
From the summit you can see for miles and miles - it's fantastic, the lochs, mountains, the Mamore range, the Western Isles and the fantastic cliffs and ridges of the Ben itself! - if you think it is going to be a good clear/sunny day - take binoculars if you can - it is well worth it.
Go for it... you'll be rewarded.